Time, time, time

By Jeff Howes

Age old landscape, image H Miles

One of the themes for the Garden Design Study Group (GDSG) newsletter number 114 was Time and the Editor Lawrie Smith introduced the discussion as follows:

‘Time’ often figures prominently in conversations and texts when discussing gardens and landscape. ‘Time’ has many connotations and interpretations and these were a few illustrations:

  • How has ‘time’ matured the design of long established gardens of native plants
  • No ‘time’ to wait! Today we want instant gardens
  • Planning a garden to develop over ‘time’ for future generations
  • Incorrect plant selections blocking views and breezes over ‘time’.

I typed a few words in reply and thought it may promote some discussion.

Time is an interesting concept and is all relative to one’s perspective. If you are one of the average Australian that change houses every 5 years then your perspective of creating a garden with that time frame will be very different to an old bloke like me that has been gardening on the same 800 sq m block for 40 plus years. Then again if you are an Australian Aboriginal person you are thinking a much longer time of 70,000 years and maybe more.

The noted geologist, John McPhee, in 1981 coined the phrase ‘deep time’ to describe the course of geological events. Australian human history has spanned three geological epochs: Pleistocene, Holocene and now the one we are living in and has been proposed to call it ‘Anthropocene’ – that began around 1800 and marks the era in which human activity became the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

Lawrie’s article was written around us, in the here and now, as gardeners and landscapers and how we select and grow plants. But it is worth remembering how quickly the environment can and has changed in the past. Should we take that into account in our own gardens? OR should we become more environmentally active to retain our ever decreasing forest canopy?

Yes, outside this scope of this post, but worth thinking that the current warm period is only 11,700 years old, a very short time and not deep time, in the earth’s history.

Lawrie’s four dot points cover a whole gambit of options on how to look at the time frame of our gardens. With new estates, whole areas are being clearing for roads and infrastructure before being divided into ever decreasing house block size, leaving no room for large trees. I think we as a group should be looking at the longer time frame of environmental landscaping especially with the rising world temperatures and the implications of that for the next generations.